Our last two days in Krakow could be summed up in one word – lovely! Everything left on The Schedule was within the city, and we simply had two immensely enjoyable days visiting a few of the lesser known attractions in this city. With one exception to that as I’ll reveal later.
I went to the nearby Post Office to send home the mead I had bought at Tyniec Abbey on Sunday. It was too big to take home on the plane and as I had sent home vodka I had bought in Ukraine from Przemysl a month earlier it seemed a fairly safe option. *
After I’d picked up Agnes from our apartment, we went to the Rynek and ambled, almost subconsciously as many tourists do, into Cloth Hall. I was looking for a few souvenirs for friends; Agnes had her eyes on something a little more expensive...
You can buy the most ornately hand carved chess sets for a ludicrously cheap 25zl. I bought one myself in 2003 and I contemplated buying one for a friend. But after considering that Adam and I haven’t played chess for longer than I can remember I decided against it. Agnes was looking at very nice amber pendants. After examining about 50 of them she finally chose a lovely, deep cherry-coloured one. Despite being very touristy Cloth Hall is one of my favourite parts of Krakow. There’s vibrancy about the place that I just love. Traders just allow you to browse with no hassle or fuss and you can search to your heart’s content without being harassed. It is also a very beautiful building.
We half heartedly contemplated several lunch options but I think we both knew where we wanted to go. So after visiting several nice churches along Grodzka Street we gravitated to Bar Mleczny again for another filling and delightful lunch. Our next two places to visit were in the immediate neighbourhood so with bellies full we walked to “Ciuciu Museum”, the self styled ‘World’s Smallest Candy Factory’. It is indeed tiny, just a small shop unit where the staff actually make the sweet stuff right in front of your eyes. We were greeted with a freebie on arrival but what you see is literally it. The public were not allowed anywhere else in the factory so we left and moved on the next place, a shop called Szambelan (chamberlain). This is a small distillery of fine liqueurs, oils and vinegars. Customers are allowed as many free samples as they wish and we certainly took advantage of it. After a few I was definitely feeling the benefits of a slight alcoholic haze. I bought a honey and a blueberry liqueur for myself and a bottle of mead for a friend back home.
After recharging the batteries back the apartment, or ‘home’ as we had now begun to call it, we went out for an evening in and around the Rynek. One of the more unusual places of interest here is the arty and very atmospheric place called Piwnica Pod Baranami (’the Cellar under the Rams). Piwnica pod Baranami served as the most renowned political cabaret in the country, until the end of (and beyond) the communist era. After nearly fifty years Piwnica became a legend of local eccentricity; nowadays it hosts the popular Summer Jazz Festival, and regular exhibitions, music recitals and a cinema. Unlike any cinema I have ever been to, I must say. We bought tickets to a Liam Neeson film and sat down. The theatre itself was tiny; I think I counted no more than 30 seats which were all free standing arm chairs. The film itself was shown by an old fashioned projector which gave that old fashioned flicker at the edges. This was a piece of Krakow culture that I was very happy to be a part of, not many of my fellow Brits would find there way here. After the film, which was very thought provoking and intelligent we went to the cocktail bar next door. I was reluctantly served by the world’s rudest barman and Agnes and I sat down to a few relaxing drinks. We decided to have a few cocktails but despite it being half an hour before closing time the aforementioned barman refused to serve me. We didn’t allow this to dampen our mood so we left for another slow walk through the Rynek back home. It had been a great day.
Our last day in Krakow! We both didn’t want it to come so soon… I had been given a request the night before, scrambled eggs for breakfast! So in the morning I got up and made some. Unfortunately I used a plastic stirrer to mix them up as they were cooking which had the effect of giving the eggs a slight after taste of plastic. The thought was there at least...
After the oeuf d’plastique we took a walk to Stary Kleparz market, a simple traditional market that had stood in Krakow for generations. We were both disappointed that we hadn’t been there before; if we had then I’m sure we’d have been there more often and made less visits to the Carrefour supermarket. Everything was very cheap and fresh, this was a real slice of local Krakow life. I don’t recall seeing another foreigner in there.
As we were leaving, we watched an old lady who sat there contentedly knitting woollen socks. She had this charming weathered look about her that was quite endearing. At first we both thought how sad it was that a lady of her advanced years had to scratch a living on a daily basis selling her handmade wares. Then it occurred to me that there was nothing bitter or sad about her, she seems to be one of those few lucky people who humbly took life as it happens and appreciated even the smallest pleasures. She had a genuine look of joy on her face when we both bought a pair of her socks. I didn’t buy them because I wanted them; I bought them because I wanted to buy something from her, if that makes any sense. Agnes got a little emotional when we left her and I could understand that, this lady’s good, honest eyes had affected us both. I even went back and bought two more pairs.
We walked to Florianska Street and the first place on our itinerary today, the Krakow Pharmacy Museum. Florianska Street is where the Kings of Poland would enter Krakow on their way to Wawel Hill. It was a shame therefore that such a significant street is now probably the street most lost over to the tourist revolution that has come to the city. Neon signs and tourist orientated shops are everywhere. The pharmacy museum however was a delight. Founded in 1946 it is one of a few of its kind in the world. Exhibits collected here show the history of pharmacy from the Middle Ages to modern times. An eighteenth-century pharmacy has been reconstructed inside, as well as some other interiors - like an old laboratory, an apothecary cellar with barrels and flasks for medicinal wines, and an apothecary attic for drying and storing herbs. The museum also houses a library preserving old herbals, antidotaria, pharmacopoeias and other old prints relating to the history of the art of preparing drugs. I couldn’t resist buying an interesting souvenir; Pilulae Perpetuae, or reusable pills meant to cleanse your insides from anything undesirable. The ‘reusable’ part didn’t actually register with me until we’d left much to our amusement. I’ll leave it up your imagination as to the reusable function but if you are ever round my house and ask me for a headache tablet I’d advise you to examine it closely...
As tempting as it was to go back to Bar Mleczny we decided to seek out somewhere different and settled on a traditional looking restaurant hidden down an alley off the Rynek. It was impressive looking but the food was a little disappointing, which left me wishing we’d gone back to the Milk Bar. We heard raised voices from the kitchen which turned out to be a heated argument between the owner and the chef. Apparently the owner was not too impressed with the quality of the food he was letting leave the kitchen…
After lunch we walked to Mariacki Church which was simply breathtaking! The highlight is of course the fabulous altarpiece, carved by Veit Stoss. The 15th century masterpiece is the biggest Gothic altarpiece in the world, and the realistically carved figures of St. Mary and the Saints are about 2.7 meters high. Obviously, we also climbed the tower that gives amazing views over the city. It was a long climb - over 230 steps - but the panorama was simply stunning. You can see for miles around, Wawel, Kazimierz and an incredible view of Cloth Hall and the Rynek. At every single hour of the day a fireman plays a trumpet and stops mid stream. This ostensibly is to commemorate the 13th trumpeter who - so the legend goes - was shot in the throat whilst playing his trumpet to sound a warning to the people of Krakow of an impending invasion. As is the case with many such legends it isn’t true, a tour guide down below in the church had told us that. It was a great spectacle to see, another Krakovian tradition we had taken part in.
Our last real item on The Schedule was one I was looking forward to immensely, Oscar Schlinder’s factory Emalia Fabrik, where - as we all know - over 1000 Jews were sheltered from certain death in the Holocaust. I’ve mentioned many times my interest in this period so to finally go to the Factory was an amazing moment for me. It is on an industrial estate on the outskirts of Krakow and so to ensure we got in we took a taxi there. I’m glad we did as I’m not sure we’d have found it otherwise.
I’ve been to many museums about that particular time in history but this one was definitely the best one. The museum is not a reconstruction of the factory but an interactive Museum dedicated to the every-day life in occupied Krakow. Among many superb interestingly presented exhibits were street signs which were renamed Krakow Rynek as Adolf Hitler Platz and Krakow Glowny to Krakau Hbf and 3 or 4 huge swastika flags, hung from ceiling to the wall. Later Agnes told me that she was irrationally angry seeing them just hanging there, as they were the very symbol of all the evil that has been committed during the war. Personally I felt that the museum proprietors had a right to display the flags, after all the citizens of Krakow were forced to look at them every day for six years. I just felt it unnecessary to display four of them in a single room when one would have made the point just as well. That also disturbed me, I couldn’t help but wonder what was going though the minds of the citizens at the time who were forced to watch their Polish heritage being systematically eradicated. Some of the exhibits brought a tear to my eye. I was also very happy to see the parts of the factory that had been restored, namely two offices, one of which was Oscar Schindler’s. I was a little worried that the whole excursion was a little self indulgent of me so I was pleased to hear that Agnes had enjoyed it as much as me. We sat down for a few photos in reconstructed hairdressers for a little too long as we were sternly told No sitting!
I think it’s fair to say I was beaming outside the museum, I was realising an ambition to be here and probably went a little photo crazy. To summarize, this museum is very cleverly done; the strikingly vivid arrangement of the exhibition, which relies on the latest technological developments, is meant to aid it in reaching viewers who only know the history of the Second World War from textbooks.
Our last night was spent in a lovely restaurant Miod Malina; we had noticed it when walking along Grodzka Street. We were both in relaxed moods and looking forward to a nice final meal and our second planned evening meal in a restaurant of the week. The restaurant was evidently popular and we sat down with a nice view of an open wood oven. I had a similar starter that I’d had in Gdansk a few months ago. A sausage soup which is served in a bowl made of bread. It was delightful. We had a lovely meal and a pleasant evening. There was only one place we just had to visit one more time: Tribeca Coffee for one last White Chocolate Mocha. We were both in a reflective nostalgic mood by now with the end of our ‘Week in Krakow’ now in sight. We just spoke warmly about the week, our highlights and fond memories and it was a perfect way to end our last evening. There was nothing else left apart from the slowest of walks through the Rynek, taking in the sights one last time and walking through a pretty little corner just behind Mariacki church.
So that was it, the end of a wonderful week in a wonderful city. The week had flown by and I was almost in disbelief that the seven days had passed. But what an amazing seven days it had been.
* Footnote: Two weeks later, still no sign of the mead.
P.S Z podziękowaniami dla mojego duch pisarza, Kocham Cię xx